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Sharks Gameday: Ancient and Wild

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7:30 PST
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39-18-7, 85 points 37-21-6, 80 points
2nd in Western Conference
3rd in Western Conference

Television
CSN-CA (HD)
Radio
98.5 KFOX, Sjsharks.com
Antagonists
Winging It In Motown
Abel To Yzerman

Whenever San Jose would play Detroit in the past, a great trepidation would slowly make its way over the city of San Jose like a cloud bursting with acid rain. The Red Wings, sole proprietors of the they-make-it-look-so-easy business of embarrassing NHL teams, were a team that struck the fear of god into an already neurotic fanbase. They were the crème de la crème of NHL superpowers, the quintessential organization, impeccably run and imposingly dressed in those reds and whites that harkened back to the days of Soviet dominance over the hockey world. If you squinted your eyes real tight, and tilted your head at just the right angle, you would almost swear that Boris Mikhailov was out there once again terrorizing opposing goaltenders.

Which isn't to say things have changed all too much-- Detroit still regularly sends what previously appeared to be legitimate NHL teams back to the stone ages on many nights, their vast reserves of assets from the top line to third pairing dazzling and deking and Datsyuking their way past helpless opponents at a feverish pace. They're poised once again to make a strong postseason run, and with pundits and casual fans alike recognizing the undeniable talent on the roster, it's not uncommon to cite their historical success as one of those intangibles that could push them over the top yet again.

As Todd McLellan remarked yesterday afternoon, Detroit's fanbase has always felt their greatest rivals to be amongst the Original Six teams. The fact of the matter is that the Red Wings have always been the benchmark for success, the ultimate litmus test of a burgeoning organization's recognition of self-worth. Just a quick glance at the winged wheel at the top of the screen tells you all you need to know. It speaks volumes, attached to our collective cerebral cortex with an electric branding iron and two rapid fire staple guns. It doesn't work the other way around. The numbers just don't add up. Especially for a team like San Jose, one that has yet to take a stroll on the hallowed ground of a Stanley Cup Finals appearance let alone take that silver chalice out on the town with a bottle of bubbly and a ticket to eternity.

And yet tonight... well, tonight feels a little different. Not in any Earth shattering way mind you. Detroit is still Detroit, that's a fact, and there's no reason to attempt to fudge the numbers and convince yourself otherwise. They're a roster that matches up with San Jose on just about every level, roll four lines with regularity, and employ a bench boss with a mind that is probably just as qualified to be running a professional hockey team as it is capable of managing a quant hedge-fund with nine figures in assets on its balance sheet.

But still, tonight, it just feels a little different. With the Sharks series victory over Detroit occurring less than a year ago, and San Jose's sweep at The Joe earlier this year, a little bit of that mysticism surrounding the Red Wings is gone. Maybe it died when Patrick Marleau punched home the game winning goal in game three, or maybe it died when San Jose green-lit an aggressive third period two weeks ago and dominated the final frame for a 4-3 victory. Or maybe it's just a case where the beast has gone into hibernation for the time being, and all of those past failures have been set aside in a time where hubris has begun its reign as King.

And although the impending sense of doom is far from nonexistent, as we must once again pay homage to the neurosis of a fanbase that has been subjected to more playoff disappointments than triumphs, the gloom seems more Duke Nukem esque than anything else. A constant reminder of what was, the promise of what could be, but the fact of the matter is we don't have it in our hands right now.

It's not Armageddon on ice when Detroit comes to town anymore, at least for the time being.

It's just two great teams making a pitstop on their road to the promised land, burning rubber on a track that is struggling to keep their combined horsepower contained.

Prediction: Sharks win 3-2. Goals by Marleau, White, and Clowe.